By Christopher Hamill-Stewart
May 25, 2020
Iran has been accused of using a “sophisticated state-sponsored program” of cyber disinformation to identify and arrest supporters of a London-based Persian-language news outlet.
Iran International has been targeted by cybercriminals, thought to be working for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who have made replicas of the channel’s social media accounts and their most popular reporters.
Mahmood Enayat, general manager at Iran International, said this is an attempt to identify and arrest the channel’s supporters in the country.
“They’ll put up fake job adverts from our presenters on Instagram, people will apply from within Iran, and the next day there will be a knock at their door and they’ll be arrested for wanting to ‘work with the enemy,’” Enayat told Arab News.
Tehran has not just stuck to Instagram, though. Enayat said a fake Iran International Telegram account drew over 600,000 followers, and it was used to identify and arrest Iranians who believe they are subscribing to the real platform.
Iran International covered the November protests that rocked the country, the regime’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, and corruption surrounding the coronavirus crisis. This, Enayat believes, is why the channel is being targeted by the regime.
“We’re asking questions about these things — real news, things that are happening, things the government doesn’t want us to cover,” he said.
“They’re doing everything they possibly can to prevent Iranians accessing and reading this news, and to prevent us from reporting it.”
Mark Stephens, QC, chairman of the Global Network Initiative — a human rights organization that seeks to promote freedom of expression and privacy online — said: “Anyone who reveals they are following Iran International immediately puts themselves in danger.” He added: “This is a sophisticated state-sponsored program.”
The failure of Facebook-owned Instagram to effectively police its site, Stephens said, is a breach of international law.
Both Enayat and Stephens urged Facebook to properly confront this ongoing issue. Facebook has said it is investigating.
Enayat said: “There’s a real danger to peoples’ safety. We know they’re targeting people through these fake profiles.”
Social media platforms “have a duty of care toward their members, who also happen to be our audience,” he added.